The Nigerian and West African practice of aso ebi fashion invokes notions of wealth and group dynamics in social gatherings. Okechukwu Nwafor’s volume Aso ebi investigates the practice in the cosmopolitan urban setting of Lagos, and argues that the visual and consumerist hype typical of the late capitalist system feeds this unique fashion practice. The book suggests that dress, fashion, aso ebi, and photography engender a new visual culture that largely reflects the economics of mundane living. Nwafor examines the practice’s societal dilemma, whereby the solidarity of aso ebi is dismissed by many as an ephemeral transaction. A circuitous transaction among photographers, fashion magazine producers, textile merchants, tailors, and individual fashionistas reinvents aso ebi as a product of cosmopolitan urban modernity. The results are a fetishization of various forms of commodity culture, personality cults through mass followership, the negotiation of symbolic power through mass-produced images, exchange value in human relationships through gifts, and a form of exclusion achieved through digital photo editing. Aso ebi has become an essential part of Lagos cosmopolitanism: as a rising form of a unique visual culture it is central to the unprecedented spread of a unique West African fashion style that revels in excessive textile overflow. This extreme dress style is what an individual requires to transcend the lack imposed by the chaos of the postcolonial city.
Most women in the West use contraceptives in order to avoid having children. But in rural Gambia and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, many women use contraceptives for the opposite reason—to have as many children as possible.
Using ethnographic and demographic data from a three-year study in rural Gambia, Contingent Lives explains this seemingly counterintuitive fact by juxtaposing two very different understandings of the life course: one is a linear, Western model that equates aging and the ability to reproduce with the passage of time, the other a Gambian model that views aging as contingent on the cumulative physical, social, and spiritual hardships of personal history, especially obstetric trauma. Viewing each of these two models from the perspective of the other, Caroline Bledsoe produces fresh understandings of the classical anthropological subjects of reproduction, time, and aging as culturally shaped within women's conjugal lives. Her insights will be welcomed by scholars of anthropology and demography as well as by those working in public health, development studies, gerontology, and the history of medicine.
In recent years the popularity of service learning and study abroad programs that bring students to the global South has soared, thanks to this generation of college students' desire to make a positive difference in the world. This collection contains essays by undergraduates who recount their experiences in Togo working on projects that established health insurance at a local clinic, built a cyber café, created a microlending program for teens, and started a local writers' group. The essays show students putting their optimism to work while learning that paying attention to local knowledge can make all the difference in a project's success. Students also conducted research on global health topics by examining the complex relationships between traditional healing practices and biomedicine. Charles Piot's introduction contextualizes student-initiated development within the history of development work in West Africa since 1960, while his epilogue provides an update on the projects, compiles an inventory of best practices, and describes the type of projects that are likely to succeed. Doing Development in West Africa provides a relatable and intimate look into the range of challenges, successes, and failures that come with studying abroad in the global South.
Contributors. Cheyenne Allenby, Kelly Andrejko, Connor Cotton, Allie Middleton, Caitlin Moyles, Charles Piot, Benjamin Ramsey, Maria Cecilia Romano, Stephanie Rotolo, Emma Smith, Sarah Zimmerman
The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed some of the greatest gold mining migrations in history when dreams of bonanza lured thousands of prospectors and diggers to the far corners of the earth—including the Gold Coast of West Africa.
El Dorado in West Africa explores the first modern gold rush of Ghana in all of its dimensions—land, labor, capital, traditional African mining, technology, transport, management, the clash of cultures, and colonial rule. The rich tapestry of events is crisscrossed by unexpected ironies and paradoxes.
Professor Dumett tells the story of the expatriate-led gold boom of 1875-1900 against the background of colonial capitalism. Through the use of oral data, he also brings to light the expansion of a parallel “African gold mining frontier,” which outpaced the expatriate mining sector.
African women, kings and chiefs, and the ordinary Akan farmer/miners, as well as European engineers and speculators, are the focal points of this study. It probes in depth the productive and developmental features and the turbulent and shattering effects of mining capitalism on African societies.
By the time the “Scramble for Africa” among European colonial powers began in the late nineteenth century, Africa had already been globally connected for centuries. Its gold had fueled the economies of Europe and the Islamic world for nearly a millennium, and the sophisticated kingdoms spanning its west coast had traded with Europeans since the fifteenth century. Until at least 1650, this was a trade of equals, using a variety of currencies—most importantly, cowrie shells imported from the Maldives and nzimbu shells imported from Brazil. But, as the slave trade grew, African kingdoms began to lose prominence in the growing global economy. We have been living with the effects of this shift ever since.
With A Fistful of Shells, Toby Green transforms our view of West and West-Central Africa by reconstructing the world of these kingdoms, which revolved around trade, diplomacy, complex religious beliefs, and the production of art. Green shows how the slave trade led to economic disparities that caused African kingdoms to lose relative political and economic power. The concentration of money in the hands of Atlantic elites in and outside these kingdoms brought about a revolutionary nineteenth century in Africa, parallel to the upheavals then taking place in Europe and America. Yet political fragmentation following the fall of African aristocracies produced radically different results as European colonization took hold.
Drawing not just on written histories, but on archival research in nine countries, art, oral history, archaeology, and letters, Green lays bare the transformations that have shaped world politics and the global economy since the fifteenth century and paints a new and masterful portrait of West Africa, past and present.
This timely book explores the troubled intertwining of religion, medicine, empire, and race relations in the early nineteenth century. John Rankin analyzes the British use of medicine in West Africa as a tool to usher in a “softer” form of imperialism, considers how British colonial officials, missionaries, and doctors regarded Africans, and explores the impact of race classification on colonial constructs.
Rankin goes beyond contemporary medical theory, examining the practice of medicine in colonial Africa as Britons dealt with the challenges of providing health care to their civilian employees, African soldiers, and the increasing numbers of freed slaves in the general population, even while the imperialists themselves were threatened by a lack of British doctors and western medicines. As Rankin writes, “The medical system sought to not only heal Africans but to ‘uplift’ them and make them more amenable to colonial control . . . Colonialism starts in the mind and can be pushed on the other solely through ideological pressure.”
Sierra Leone’s unique history, especially in the development and consolidation of British colonialism in West Africa, has made it an important site of historical investigation since the 1950s. Much of the scholarship produced in subsequent decades has focused on the “Krio,” descendants of freed slaves from the West Indies, North America, England, and other areas of West Africa, who settled Freetown, beginning in the late eighteenth century. Two foundational and enduring assumptions have characterized this historiography: the concepts of “Creole” and “Krio” are virtually interchangeable; and the community to which these terms apply was and is largely self-contained, Christian, and English in worldview.
In a bold challenge to the long-standing historiography on Sierra Leone, Gibril Cole carefully disentangles “Krio” from “Creole,” revealing the diversity and permeability of a community that included many who, in fact, were not Christian. In Cole’s persuasive and engaging analysis, Muslim settlers take center stage as critical actors in the dynamic growth of Freetown’s Krio society.
The Krio of West Africa represents the results of some of the first sustained historical research to be undertaken since the end of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war. It speaks clearly and powerfully not only to those with an interest in the specific history of Sierra Leone, but to histories of Islam in West Africa, the British empire, the Black Atlantic, the Yoruban diaspora, and the slave trade and its aftermath.
In Neoliberal Frontiers, Brenda Chalfin presents an ethnographic examination of the day-to-day practices of the officials of Ghana’s Customs Service, exploring the impact of neoliberal restructuring and integration into the global economy on Ghanaian sovereignty. From the revealing vantage point of the Customs office, Chalfin discovers a fascinating inversion of our assumptions about neoliberal transformation: bureaucrats and local functionaries, government offices, checkpoints, and registries are typically held to be the targets of reform, but Chalfin finds that these figures and sites of authority act as the engine for changes in state sovereignty. Ghana has served as a model of reform for the neoliberal establishment, making it an ideal site for Chalfin to explore why the restructuring of a state on the global periphery portends shifts that occur in all corners of the world. At once a foray into international political economy, politics, and political anthropology, Neoliberal Frontiers is an innovative interdisciplinary leap forward for ethnographic writing, as well as an eloquent addition to the literature on postcolonial Africa.
For more than a century cars have symbolized autonomous, unfettered mobility and an increasingly global experience. And yet, they are often used differently outside the centers of global capitalism. This pioneering book considers how, through the lens of the automobile, we can assess the pleasures, dangers, and limits of global modernity in West Africa. Through new and provocative readings of famous plays, novels, and films, as well as recent popular videos, Postcolonial Automobility reveals the surprising ways in which automobility in the region is, at once, an everyday practice, an ethos, a fantasy of autonomy, and an affective activity intimately tied to modern social life.
Lindsey B. Green-Simms begins with the history of motorization in West Africa from the colonial era to the decolonizing decades after World War II, and addresses the tragedy of car accidents through a close reading of Wole Soyinka’s 1965 postindependence play The Road. Shifting to screen media, she discusses Ousmane Sembene’s Xala and Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Quartier Mozart and reviews popular, low-budget Nollywood films. Finally, Green-Simms considers how feminist texts rewrite and work in dialogue with the male-centered films and novels where the car stands in for patriarchal power and capitalist achievement.
Providing a unique perspective on technology in Africa—one refusing to be confined to narratives of either underdevelopment or inevitable progress—and covering a broad range of interdisciplinary material, Postcolonial Automobility will appeal not only to scholars and students of African literature and cinema but also to those in postcolonial and globalization studies.
At first glance, the remote villages of the Kabre people of northern Togo appear to have all the trappings of a classic "out of the way" African culture—subsistence farming, straw-roofed houses, and rituals to the spirits and ancestors. Arguing that village life is in fact an effect of the modern and the global, Charles Piot suggests that Kabre culture is shaped as much by colonial and postcolonial history as by anything "indigenous" or local. Through analyses of everyday and ceremonial social practices, Piot illustrates the intertwining of modernity with tradition and of the local with the national and global. In a striking example of the appropriation of tradition by the state, Togo's Kabre president regularly flies to the region in his helicopter to witness male initiation ceremonies.
Confounding both anthropological theorizations and the State Department's stereotyped images of African village life, Remotely Global aims to rethink Euroamerican theories that fail to come to terms with the fluidity of everyday relations in a society where persons and things are forever in motion.
In Slavery and Reform in West Africa, Trevor Getz demonstrates that it was largely on the anvil of this issue that French and British policy in West Africa was forged. With distant metropoles unable to intervene in daily affairs, local European administrators, striving to balance abolitionist pressures against the resistance of politically and economically powerful local slave owners, sought ways to satisfy the latter while placating or duping the former.
The result was an alliance between colonial officials, company agents, and slave-owning elites that effectively slowed, sidetracked, or undermined serious attempts to reform slave holding. Although slavery was outlawed in both regions, in only a few isolated instances did large-scale emancipations occur. Under the surface, however, slaves used the threat of self-liberation to reach accommodations that transformed the master-slave relationship.
By comparing the strategies of colonial administrators, slave-owners, and slaves across these two regions and throughout the nineteenth century, Slavery and Reform in West Africa reveals not only the causes of the astounding success of slave owners, but also the factors that could, and in some cases did, lead to slave liberations. These findings have serious implications for the wider study of slavery and emancipation and for the history of Africa generally.
In Unfixed Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial political imagination in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960. Focusing on images created by photographers based in Senegal and Benin, Bajorek draws on formal analyses of images and ethnographic fieldwork with photographers to show how photography not only reflected but also actively contributed to social and political change. The proliferation of photographic imagery—through studio portraiture, bureaucratic ID cards, political reportage and photojournalism, magazines, and more—provided the means for west Africans to express their experiences, shape public and political discourse, and reimagine their world. In delineating how west Africans' embrace of photography was associated with and helped spur the democratization of political participation and the development of labor and liberation movements, Bajorek tells a new history of photography in west Africa—one that theorizes photography's capacity for doing decolonial work.
Yam in West Africa examines a crop that has been sidelined and ignored for too long while being central to the existence of so many and consumed worldwide. In this book, Felix Nweke attempts to unravel the contradictory nature of the yam crop sector in West Africa by looking at the largest issues in the problematic industry.
Yam production is concentrated in West Africa, which is responsible for more than 90 percent of the 50 million tons produced annually around the globe. Though the crop can attract high prices, too often its producers live in penury. Regional issues drive up labor costs of food crops because of dependence on obsolete technology. In addition, certain agronomic practices that are peculiar to yam production remain unchanged, and pests and diseases still ravage the crop. Yam in West Africa investigates solutions to these problems with the aim of expanding yam production, increasing sales, helping farmers, and bringing more of this staple food to those who need it. The future of the yam is bright; this book aims to make it more so.